Vucevic declares for draft


Freshman Curtis Washington sat patiently at Friday’s press conference in the Galen Center, waiting for junior forward Nikola Vucevic to announce if he would return for his senior season.

“We would ask [Vucevic] and he would never tell us,” Washington said.

Big shoes to fill · With Vucevic declaring for the NBA draft, USC will need to replace its leading scorer and rebounder from this season. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

Vucevic’s announcement that he will declare for the NBA draft and sign with an agent, forfeiting his final season of collegiate eligibility, means Washington’s minutes for next season will significantly increase.

“Of course I always want to work hard, but it makes me work that much harder knowing that I will have a larger role,” Washington said. “It is going to be difficult to fill Nikola’s role, so we are going to have to work hard.”

With Vucevic (34.9 minutes per game) and senior forward Alex Stepheson (32.9 minutes per game) departing, USC will rely heavily on an inexperienced frontcourt next season. The Trojans’ post rotation will include transfers James Blasczyk, DeWayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller, in addition to Washington, who did not score last season.

“Curtis is a lot like me when I was a freshman,” Vucevic said. “He is a young guy who works really hard every day. He is one of the guys who works the hardest on the team.”

USC coach Kevin O’Neill said he plans to recruit one or possibly two new players.

“We are not going to take anybody that cannot come and help immediately, because that is just wasting a scholarship,” O’Neill said. “If we can find another big, we would be interested, and if we found the right wing player, we might be interested in both, but we are not going to rush into taking somebody for the sake of it.”

Only two of USC’s top seven scorers from last season, guards Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones, are expected to return next season.

“When you lose a guy like [Vucevic], obviously it is going to be a blow to you,” O’Neill said. “It is our job with the guys coming in, and whoever else we end up signing in the late period, to make sure that we have a team that can be competitive in the Pac-10 and get into the postseason.”

After deciding to declare for the NBA draft, Vucevic signed with agent Rade Filipovich of BDA Sports Management.

“It was a tough decision,” Vucevic said. “I thought that if I came back we could have done a lot of good stuff, but at the same time, I wanted to take the next step in my life.”

Had Vucevic not signed with an agent, he would have had until May 8 to withdraw his name and return to college for his senior season.

“I feel like if you do something, you have to go into it 100 percent,” Vucevic said. “It is a lot easier when you have somebody who can take care of the scheduling part.”

Vucevic said he plans to continue taking classes this semester while preparing for the NBA draft, and to take summer school so that he can eventually graduate.

This past season, the 6-foot-10 Vucevic averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team. He had a double-double in his final eight regular season Pac-10 games.

Vucevic was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Trojans, who lost to VCU in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“Nikola’s great advantage is that he is going to be able to guard [NBA power forwards and centers], which very few people can do,” O’Neill said.